UNDERSTANDING OR MEMORIZATION: 
ARE WE TEACHING THE RIGHT THING?
Alternative title:
Why waste time? Turn your lectures into discussions! 
 
ERIC MAZUR
APS CENTENNIAL SPEAKER
Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics and
Professor of Physics 
Harvard University
Department of Physics
 
 
 

Education is more than just transfer of information, yet that is what is
mostly done in large introductory courses -- instructors present material
(even though this material might be readily available in printed form) and
for students the main purpose of lectures is to take down as many notes as
they can. Few students have the ability, motivation, and discipline to
synthesize all the information delivered to them. Yet synthesis is perhaps
the most important -- and most elusive -- aspect of education. Students get
frustrated because they are unable to grasp simple concepts. Instructors
get frustrated because they don't know how to help their students grasp the
material.

The problem has a relatively simple solution: shift the focus in lectures
from delivering information to synthesizing information. This requires
students to take more responsibility for obtaining the information in the
first place, but this is a process that they are quite good at anyway. With
examples from my own discipline (physics), I will illustrate how I
discovered rampant problems in my own lectures and how I have begun to
remedy the problem.
 
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